March 7, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Sirens”


SIRENS:  Thursday 10PM on USA – Change the Channel

Even though it’s based on a 2011 British format, SIRENS is exactly what you would expect from the union of USA Network and Denis Leary.  Based on the first two episodes, shown back-to-back last night, the series is essentially what Rescue Me would have looked like if it had been constructed only out of its lightheartedly rude, bantering firehouse scenes–and with none of the lacerating darkness or surprising character development.

Sirens is the first original show with a half-hour format that USA has launched in quite a while, but calling it the network’s first “comedy’ is stretching the point, since some of the network’s hour-long shows like Psych have always been far more comic than dramatic.  USA is big on franchises (doctors, lawyers, cops, spies), and Sirens technically distinguishes itself from Rescue Me by concerning EMTs (and in Chicago instead of New York).  The stand-in for Leary is Michael Mosley’s Johnny, who’s fast-talking and cynical, unable to commit to his lovely girlfriend (they’re on a break, making him obsessively jealous), police officer Theresa (Jessica McNamee), with whom Johnny is constantly in contact on the job.  Johnny’s best friend and partner is Hank (Kevin Daniels), who’s black and gay in the Adam-Pally-on-Happy Endings 2014 version of sitcom gay; he’s plenty macho and good at his job but calls good-looking men “Denzel” and freely gives out relationship advice.

The pilot (Leary wrote both episodes with co-creator Bob Fisher; the pilot was directed by Victor Nelli and episode 2 by Michael Blieden) had your basic new-guy storyline, using the arrival of the show’s other regular, Brian (Kevin Bigley) to introduce everyone else.  Brian is a cliche who still lives with his parents, thinks it’s daring to drink peach schnapps (and strips down to his speedo when the guys give him whiskey), and is probably a virgin.  Much merriment was made of his naivete, and the big gag in the episode was the EMTs having to deal with a patient who’d voluntarily had a soda bottle inserted in an uncomfortable place.  (Later, Johnny and Hank fooled Brian into thinking he was drinking from that bottle.)  Episode 2 provided Johnny and Hank with plenty of comeuppance when they tried to short-change a group of low-income youths who were supposed to be getting CPR training, just so they could go to a Bears/Packers game and sit in a luxury box.

Use of words like “cock” and “shit” and dildo jokes aside, Sirens feels old-fashioned, tired even as it’s getting started.  No one in the cast seems to have much breakout potential, and in fairness to them, none of the characters have been given the kind of material that would make much impression.  Without the shading and serious emotions that the protagonists of Rescue Me had going for them (or, to name another new sitcom with a familiar setting, the unexpected quirks and contradictions of the characters on Brooklyn Nine-Nine), all that’s left is another group of Apatowian loudmouthed man-boys, and with the exception of one save at the very beginning of the pilot, even their everyday heroism is mostly treated as a joke.

It’s particularly sad to see USA slotting Sirens after Suits, its smartest one-hour, a show that could have served as the lead-in to a much sharper, more interesting kind of comedy.  Perhaps time will reveal more substance to Sirens, but for now it’s more likely to need a 911 call then effectively respond to one.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."